Joe Abunassar Rumors
To the fans that make up James’s 33.4 million followers on Instagram, the workout video is a curiosity—another window into how one of the world’s greatest athletes tunes up his body “in the lab.” But for basketball players, the video serves as a moment of realization. “What happens now is a guy loses 15 pounds and he posts it on social media,” says Joe Abunassar, a longtime NBA trainer and the founder and president of Impact Basketball. “It’s not hard to convince an NBA guy to do something when the best guys in the league are doing it.”
Five years later, the San Antonio Spurs wing has won two NBA defensive player of the year awards and has a knockdown three-point shot in his arsenal. Last season, he shot 44.3% from deep, ranking fourth in the league. Leonard improved the shot by “practicing an amount unheard of to most people,” according to his trainer, Joe Abunassar. Leonard’s motivation for doing that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Kyle Lowry has been working with Joe Abunassar, the founder of Impact Basketball, since 2008. At 29 and coming off a season in which his production tailed off after the all-star break, Lowry wanted to play lighter. “It’s no different than if a 40-year-old said, ‘I’d like to lose weight,’” Abunassar says. Except that this is Kyle Lowry. Two days a week, training started at 6:30 a.m. at the bottom of a hill, which Lowry repeatedly ran up in minute-long bursts. He worked out on-court twice a day and finished with weights or extreme Pilates. Lowry rode his bike to and from workouts, and off-days didn’t exist. “We say ‘off,’ and it’s getting a 30-minute sweat in,” Abunassar says. “We couldn’t kill him the whole summer.”
Meals weren’t what you’d call enjoyable, either. They involved egg whites, lean meat, a lot of kale and many a salad, and excluded dessert, butter and oils. Abunassar wasn’t by Lowry’s side 24 hours a day, but he’s confident Lowry didn’t eat cookies or ice cream all summer: “He didn’t want that stuff.” Abunassar is happy to see that Lowry—now weighing in at a little more than 190 lb.—has everyone talking. “It was pretty sweet to see a guy at that age really bring his whole body together,” he says. “It’s an inspiration for anyone trying to get their body together, basketball player or not.”
The fog rolls off the hills in California’s San Fernando Valley, creating a soupy chill on the sprawling campus of Chaminade College Preparatory School in West Hills. It’s late May, and Mudiay sits against a wall outside the gym, legs splayed, head buried in an iPhone. He shuttles between Chaminade and Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, running through basketball drills with noted trainer Joe Abunassar at Chaminade and strength training at PSP. Abunassar says the injured ankle has healed—Mudiay gets therapy on it three days a week as a precaution—and his drills are aimed at maximizing the player’s superior size. Pick-and-rolls. Dribble handoffs. Post moves. In fewer than three months Mudiay has packed on 11 pounds of muscle, and his single-leg explosion has improved by 31%. “When he gets past a defender, his body becomes an asset,” says Abunassar. “Look at Chris Paul. He gets a defender on his butt, and he can steer him. He shortens the distance to the basket. Emmanuel has that potential.”
Mudiay, who can speak French, understands how to adjust to new cultures. He went from being born in the Congo to living in the states for high school and then heading to China to play professionally. Even though he sprained his ankle there and missed most of the season—he’s been healed for a few months—he stuck out his contract and put in the rehab and shooting work. “One of my clients is Yi Jianlian, and he played with Emmanuel in China,” Joe Abunassar said. “The first thing he said to me about Emmanuel was, ‘He’s a good kid and a hard worker and a really good player.'”
Mudiay has been likened to John Wall. Abunassar had a more specific comparison: the size and point guard skills similar to Chauncey Billups, with the athleticism and scoring mentality of Baron Davis. “He’s a big guard, great vision, athletic,” an East general manager said. “I think he’s going to be a really special player.”